It's perfectly fair to ask why this is a problem. Surely making games more accessible to those who don't consider themselves "gamers" is a good thing? If it were containable, yes. Sadly the watering down of games has become pandemic. Big-budget games are entertaining, to a degree, but they're entirely forgettable. I'm sure the next Call of Duty will be a decent, but it's more of the same. Bound by the limitations of consoles, limitations of publishers, limitations of the economy, game designers have stopped innovating. New colors, same substance. There's better flash, but games are entirely forgettable. Disposable. I've played games in the past with scenes and characters I'll remember for years, when was the last time that happened?
Computer games, on the other hand, have far fewer restrictions. The interface can be more elaborate, the controls more detailed, and the movement more precise, thanks to the superior control scheme of keyboard+mouse.
One of the most successful games of all time, World of Warcraft will likely never be on a console. Why? Too complex. Forget all the typing required to interact with other players. I'm talking about dozens of spells and actions required to play any high level character. Think eight buttons and 3 thumbpads can handle all that? No way. So caulk up those 11,000,000+ players at $15 a month to the PC tally.
But computer games are often considered an afterthought. Games are "ported" over from their console versions. If you want to play one of the big-budget titles on a PC, you have to make do with the same simplistic interface and controls of the console version. So as video games get dumber, so must computer games. Developers seldom have the budget to create two different versions, at the detriment to all platforms. Computer gamers, accustomed to a certain level of quality, rarely accept these dumbed-down versions of games. Why would they? The games are notably inferior.
It doesn't have to be this way. Because computer games can be profitable while selling far fewer units than consoles, their designers are much more likely to focus on a niche, or try something different. The proliferation of the Steam download service means more developers can sell their wares without a traditional publisher or even a physical product (more profit for the designers). On the computer, smaller designers can create wildly successful games like Minecraft or Counter-Strike and find themselves transformed from part-time hobbyist programmers to successful game developers and business owners as millions buy and play their games.
Thanks to services like the Xbox Live Arcade/PlayStation Network, this is somewhat true of Microsoft and Sony as well. There have been some fabulous titles available for download on both services. But most often these are games with far less expected play time.
There are exceptions, of course. Big exceptions. Valve, Blizzard, Bioware, and a few others are creating some of the best games ever. Their ability to craft intricate games and tell stories separates them entirely from the dreck of the industry at large. But how much of their autonomy exists because they were successful in the past, giving them the financial freedom to be what they want to be now?
This rant is largely without a call to action. There is little any of us can do. We're much like movie critics complaining about the latest Michael Bay abomination: it doesn't matter if it's crap, people will still buy it.
Well not me. I stopped giving that charlatan my money after Pearl Harbor.
Sadly, I'll be buying Battlefield 3 and Mass Effect 3 on their release days. Cause I mean, come ON . . . they look awesome.
Brent Butterworth and Geoff Morrison combine their years of gear testing and knowledge in one überblog of irreverence and techiness.
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